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Who knows maybe you will be able to solve the 182 year old mystery

Easyvoyage logo Easyvoyage 28-07-2017 Editorial Team

© Provided by Webedia SAS It is somehow reassuring, if difficult to imagine, that even though it is 2017 there are still some mysteries that remain unanswered. One such mystery is that of Margate's 'Shell Grotto'. If the name alone has not yet peaked your curiosity perhaps the strange story of this popular attraction in one of Britain's best known seaside town's will.

The shell grotto is comprised of a passageway that was 2.4 meters high and 21 meters in length and led to a rectangular room, referred to as "The Altar Chamber", in total it is estimated that there are 190sq meters of mosaic which is comprised of 4.6 million shells.

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There are conflicting accounts regarding who discovered the 'shell grotto' and how, one thing historian's do agree on is the date - 1835. One of the most frequently sited stories tells of Mr. James Newlove lowering his young son Joshua into a hole in the ground that had appeared during the digging of a duck pond. Joshua emerged from the hole describing tunnels covered with shells. However, unfortunately despite the appeal of this story there is no way of knowing for sure whether it really was young Joshua who had made the incredible discovery. What we do know is that Mr. Newlove saw the financial potential of the mysterious cavern and a few years later the first official reference of the grotto came from an article published in the Kentish Gazette on 22 May 1838, which was advertising the opening of a new public attraction. In 1932, after the ownership of the grotto had changed, gas lighting that was installed by the Newloves was substituted by electric lights. The new owners had discovered that over the years the gas lighting has contributed to the discoloration of the shells and the switch was made in an attempt to conserve the site.

While the discovery of the grotto remains an intriguing mystery, it pales in comparison to the much larger question of its origin. Perhaps the most famous theory is that the grotto was constructed sometime between the 18th and early 19th century and was a rich man's folly. Follies were particularly popular in the 1700s and were a common sight on large estates. However, if it really was a folly how is that all record and knowledge of its construction vanished within a century? According to another theory the grotto was smuggler's cave, smuggling was a common practice around the Margate area during the time, however this theory too has problems with it, mainly why would smugglers decorate the grotto with millions of shells? Other theories include it being an ancient astrological temple which may be as old as 3000 years!

So with the cave having been common knowledge for over 180 years how is it that its origins still remain a mystery, especially now with the availability of carbon dating? According to the information provided by the grotto's official website multiple shell samples would have to be provided in order to get a conclusive answer and the cost of the carbon dating would be substantial .

The work that went into creating this is so impressive. 

The site goes on to state that currently the preservation of the grotto, which is also a costly process, remains the owner's priority. A part form the shells, which have turned black over the years and require to be cleaned the site has also suffered the effects of water penetration. However after a five year conservation programme, which was carried out in partnership with English Heritage and completed in 2012, the structure was removed from the Buildings at Risk Register.

While the shell grotto's mystery continues to puzzle historians, one thing is clear - if you find yourself in the beautiful Kentish countryside, be sure to visit this incredible site, because if you do you are sure to remember it for the rest of your life.

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